Pass levy, get 4 years, district says

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

The Columbus school board promises that it won't ask for another tax increase until 2012 if voters approve a levy in November. But the board wouldn't renew its pledge to limit spending.

Some community leaders have called for financial-accountability promises to gain support for the combined bond issue-operating levy that will be on the ballot this fall.

Board members voted unanimously to approve a pledge that largely mirrors the one adopted in 2004, when voters last approved a levy. But district officials say the spending cap they adopted that year -- which allowed expenses to increase no more than 3 percent a year -- was too limiting.

The current tax issue would cost an average of $275 a year more for the owner of a $100,000 home. The bond issue would make up $35 of that amount, maintaining the current 3.9-mill rate that taxpayers are spending for existing district debt. If the measure fails, the millage would decrease.

"We feel very good about the fact that the promises made four years ago were kept," said board President Terry Boyd. "We intend to be good stewards of the public's dollars."

The resolution includes a promise to make the proposed levy last at least four years, to continue regular reports on the district's financial status and forecast, and to hold more public meetings and forums.

It also commits to $76 million in unspecified budget cuts over the four years and closure of six school buildings.

The pledge rejects a spending cap, instead allowing for "flexibility regarding annual expenditures." To make the levy last four years, the district could increase spending an average of 4.35 percent a year.

District officials have said the cap forced cuts in academic programs because of unexpected expenses, such as the rising cost of gas.

"I was very upfront about my apprehension about having a cap," said board member W. Carlton Weddington. "This is an opportunity for the district, (Superintendent Gene) Harris and her administration to have some


Board member Stephanie Groce called for a stronger commitment to improving the food-services unit, which has faced multimillion-dollar deficits and the resignation of its director this summer.

The district should state that food services will be "operating on a break-even basis by a certain point in time," Groce said.

But Boyd said the food-services department is in the midst of a three-year improvement plan and no changes were made to the resolution. It says "the district will continue to implement the recommendations of industry

experts," but gives no specific goal.

District officials have suggested contracting out many of the department's administrative needs.

Chief Operating Officer Larry Hoskins, who oversees food services, said the district is reviewing proposals from outside companies.